THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
To Toke or Not to Toke, That is the Question
It’s safe to say that our country’s laws concerning legalization of marijuana are a murky mess, so what is the best course of action?
For all the momentum being gained on the marijuana legalization front, the laws around the country and on the federal level are still both confusing and conflicting. Recreational, medical, criminalized, decriminalized, Schedule 1 Substance -- it’s enough to make your head spin.
There are those that say it’s a gateway drug, those that say its harmless, those that say its harmful, and those that say it has useful medicinal properties. What makes this issue so complex, in the battle for who is right, is that all sides are correct to a point.
Marijuana use certainly has concrete medicinal benefits. Research has shown that Marijuana can effectively treat muscle spasms related to MS, nausea from chemotherapy, pain, seizure disorders and Crohn’s disease. Even the FDA has approved some cannabinoid use in pill form.
On the flip-side, studies of Marijuana have shown links to mental illness in those that are genetically predisposed to certain serious mental conditions. For those that have a certain variant of the AKT1 gene (which affects dopamine signaling in the brain), consistent use of marijuana increases the chance of developing schizophrenia by a multiple of seven. This is just one example, and new studies are needed to fully understand the mental health effects of marijuana use.
There is much controversy as to whether marijuana is a gateway drug. Conflicting studies continue to be produced, including one that contends that those addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to use heroin. There are, however, so many other cultural and socioeconomic factors involved, that it is hard to make a definitive case that marijuana is a gateway drug.
Regarding the addictiveness of marijuana, based on decades of research outlined in the book The Science of Marijuana, scientist Leslie Iversen, concludes that only about nine percent of regular marijuana users would develop a serious dependency on the drug. This would indicate that marijuana is significantly less addictive than many other substances like heroin or alcohol.
So, what about the war on marijuana? According to economist and senior lecturer at Harvard University, Jeffrey Miron, the annual cost to fight marijuana on the Federal and state level, is now costing close to $20 billion per year and that number continues to increase.
According to analysis by the ACLU, marijuana arrests account for over half of all drug arrests and there have been 8.2 million marijuana related arrests between 2001 and 2010 alone. 88% of those were simply for possession. There are the ridiculous prison sentences that put some behind bars for years, but even those who avoid jail time, can have their prospects for a productive future dashed. Then there is the racial disparity, with African Americans being almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
So, yes, there is reason for concern regarding the potential dangers of marijuana use, and more objective studies need to be conducted, but continued criminalization is not only futile in stopping its use, it’s a very bad and failed policy.
A study from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that minorities are still more likely to get arrested than white people, despite...